By Robert Miskimon Jr.
“Come with me to the Casbah” Millions of American hearts fluttered when Charles Boyer said that to Hedy Lamar in “Casablanca”, evoking for Americans a highly romantic image of the exotic charms of the Middle East – a land of mystic intrigue and great wealth, where international spies engaged in battles of wit.
Not so, says Ammar Bouchouche, 28, from Constantine, Algeria, a graduate student in political science who works in the School of Journalism Freedom of Information Center.
Ammar first came to the U.S. in 1961 as a foreign exchange student. Then, he took his A.B. and A.M. degrees from the Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, III.
To him, Algerians are a people of tremendous resources and a great will to survive, as attested to by their fight of seven and a half years to free themselves from French rule, which had been imposed in 1830.
“Although the Algerians were culturally assimilated in the eighth century by the Moslem civilization (acquiring for the first time their language of Arabic and their Moslem religion) they were never assimilated into French culture, because of their unity and homogeneity” said the volatile Bouhouche.
Having been under French rule since 1830, Algerians just after the First World War began to organize to achieve their independence. This, according to an article by Bouhouche in the Fall ’65 issue of “Arab Journal”, (the official publication for Arab students in the U.S. and Canada) was accomplished along the following lines: 1) the emergence of nationalistic feelings in the Middle East, with Algerian national consciousness, 2) special pledges for independence given to Arab by the Allies. 3) President Wilson’s fourteen-point program for self- Determination in all occupied territories, 4) the emergence of an educated class of Algerians who began to urge liberty and equality for Algeria, and 5) the demands of 94,300 Algerian soldiers returning from fighting with Allies in World War I for the same rights as Frenchmen.
French reaction to this nationalistic sentiment was to strengthen controls, and to implement a divide-and-rule policy, according to Bouhouche.
Three major movements then arose, all advocating Algerian independence: “The Star of North Africa” – later known as the “Party of the Algerian People” (PPA), “The Democratic Union of the Algerian Manifesto” UDMA), and the “Association of Algerian Moslem Scholars” (AAMS).
After the Second World War, Algerian discontent reached its peak when, on May 8, 1945, between 40 to 45 thousand Algerians were killed or wounded by the French police and Air Force in the attempt to suppress nationalistic demonstrations. The air force bombed and strafed many villages but this was never reported, Bouhouche points out.
In an attempt to placate the Algerians, the French passed the Statute of 1947, which said that Algeria “constitutes a group of departments endowed with a civil personality, financial autonomy and a particular organization,” Bouhouche says in his article.
Under this statute, elections were held in April 1948 for officers of the Council of Government and the Algerian Assembly. Most of the protest movement leaders and voters were jailed before the election. Thus, the Algerian correspondent of “Le Monde” wrote, “The rigging of the second college elections is the talk of Algeria.” One of the Arabs tolds the reporter, “These elections are a comedy”.
From that point, Bouhouche said, Algerians were uncontrollable in their desires for independence. All previous political parties were organized into one party, the “Front of national Liberation” (FLN), to present a unified resistance to the French in 1954. At 1am. November. 1, 1954, the FLN launched the revolution. Bloody fighting continued until 1958. Many peoples of the world frowned on the revolution. But at least one American approved. Senator. John F. Kennedy “Algerians are very much in favor of Kennedy, because on June 2, 1957 he spoke to the Senate in favor of the Algerian cause, against French suppression”, Bouhouche said. Today there stands a “John F. Kennedy Square” in Algeria to commemorate the event.
Having won its independence by 1962, Algeria continued with the same form of administrative organization which it had had under French rule, with political power confined to a single party, The FLN.
The nation is ruled by a president, with the National Assembly, composed of 196 members. The president has the power to veto legislation from the Assembly, and vice versa. Bills may originate from either. The president serves a five-year term; at present the office is filled by Houari Boumedienne, who overthrew President Ben Bella in 1965. However, inspite of its relatively advanced type of government. Algeria faces serious problems, Bouhouche said.
“Although 35 per cent of the national budget each year goes into education, and we have free public education through the university level, 75 per cent of the people remain illiterate,” he said.
“Our land is distributed among all the people, according to Marxist theory, under the ‘socialized sector’ plan. This means that all land is owned by the government, and is placed under self-management committees. All profits then go to these committees, which pay worker’s salaries, then put 2/3 of the profits into committee funds, and 1/3 into welfare projects” said Bouhouche.
Algeria draws from $300 to $400 million every year in oil resources, as well as about $400 million in French aid.
What are some of the attitudes of Algerians toward Americans?
“We Algerians are one of the leading nations in supporting the war in Vietnam. We had to fight for seven and a half years for our independence, and we feel that everyone should be free to choose their form of government,” Bouhouche said.
“We admire American ‘progress’, but it is very unfortunate that American appropriations for munitions have been greater than those for education, teacher training, and other constructive things for the welfare of emerging nations” he said.
The Russians train over 2,000 Algerian civil servants in institutions under Algerian control. Russian money pays for this education. It is wrong for the U.S. to think that money given in foreign aid should make nations ‘yes-men’ to their policies. I would like to be Algerian and get aid from whenever it comes, with no political strings attached.” Bouhouche said.
* Interview Published in The Columbia Missourian Magazine, issue of Sunday March, 19, 1967.